I was in a white suburban high school during the grape boycott and teachers, students and administrators were nearly uniformly hostile to the idea that a Mexican farm worker would organize other workers for actions which would ‘injure’ the farmers. This opposition opinion was widely discussed and only a handful of students were open-minded to think for themselves. One of them was Paul Nichols who asked me to go with him to a boycott rally.
When I sneaked away from home on the pretext of surfing all day, no one had a clue, not even me, of what we were about to experience. We got to the rally point, met some initial curious glances with our smiles and got a warm welcome. We were treated as family and had a long, hot walk with frequent stops before stopping for police who had questions and orders to hold up the walkers. We eventually turned back and still there were strong feelings of triumph among the throng which continued to grow until we parted after sunset.
Paul and I made it back home in the late evening jubilant and began to tell our story of inclusion and hope for people who were just like us. We spoke about opportunity and recognition and how we were treated with dignity and respect as one with them which is how people should be. Paul took me to another rally where we met Cesar and listened to his philosophy, about objectives beyond grapes.
Paul was later expelled for wearing an armband, “Se Sue Puede”, and encouraging others to do the same. Only a handful of us did. After Paul, they picked another student to use as example, then another. Before it became my turn to be expelled, the faculty voiced opposition to punitive action against fine students for political activities. My parents may have heard of my actions but I never told them.
As more students were joined by faculty in endorsing the grape boycott, we saw the real issue of racism trumpeted by those who could not see what they were doing. Teachers began to address it as an intellectual concept and discussions showed much of the bad feelings were about social place and skin color, not economics and not fairness.
Sadly, after graduation, Paul Nichols and I were never in touch. However, I remained involved with the social justice movement, farm workers rights, and peace, realizing this isn’t just about money but about families and lives which are equally important to anyone living.
I buy grapes now and proudly declare, “Se Sue Puede” for those around me to know that the battle continues for workers, for families, for all of us to be recognized. Now and then, somewhere I hear the response! 20 years seems so long and there remains so much to be done!
During last year’s election cycle I went with another longtime UFW supporter to join the throng at the National Monument dedication. It was the highlight of her 83 years. Everyone was cheerful, excited, motivated and helpful. This is how peoples of all walks should be and the thrill lasted well after our long day ended.
Now, it brings me great satisfaction to stop at the National Monument, reflect on Cesar’s trials and triumphs and where we are going. I listen to the wind and peacefulness of the rancho and feel that legacy. My respect and admiration for Cesar is great forty years later. We are always family!